Spring Comes Early To Montana's Centennial Valley

And, We are GLAD! After an over-abundance of winter at Elk Lake in 2011, I readily admit to welcoming an early spring with open arms. Granted some folks are predicted a hot, dry summer, but after 130% of normal snowpack and a summer which never wanted to come, summer 2011 ended up with high fire danger at season end. So. . .who can really tell? Furthermore, I believe these things are in the hands of kind Providence. Nine years will equal nine different summers - that's what I know!

So I am enjoying an early (and welcome) spring. In fact, I was thinking as I ventured out to see what else was enjoying spring's early advent, I have never had the privilege of capturing images of Elk Lake's waters with sunlight shining at this specific angle. After all, every other April has seen the lake still buried in ice. So. . .I started snapping away!

Over the next couple of posts (or so - we'll see how many pictures I amass) I'll share what I am finding on my treks around Elk Lake in April 2012. It has already been a joy - a treasure trove of firsts!

The first Buttercup! These cheery yellow flowers are typically the first to brave the winter-cold soil. Their bright yellow color not only brings a ray of sunshine, they set the stage for the return of the Grouse (since they are an important early food source for these birds). In fact, I've already seen Ruffed and Blue (clearly oblivious to the fact they ought to be worried about the early spring).

Wyoming Kittentails are another early flower - although I did not expect to see them quite yet. Yellow is a common wildflower color. Purple - not so much. Thus these always add a welcome richness to nature's palate.

Cushion Flox is another early bloomer. They require warmer soil than the Buttercups so they have been a bit harder to spot. However, these look like they are enjoying the warm sunshine (on that day - it is spring after all).

Here's a yellow flower I have yet to identify. I'm not even certain I have seen this one before. It isn't a succulent so it isn't stonecrop. Its flowers are almost more like yellow 'leaves'. I must try to get some better photos in hopes of learning its name!

Of course it's not all about the flowers. The trees are getting into the act too. I saw buds on the willows outside my back door yesterday. The Chokecherries growing along the lake are busy preparing for the season as well.

One could almost imagine this to be a flowering fruit tree so luxuriant are its 'blossoms'. However, I doubt the fruit will be as tasty as these 'blossoms' are really fuzzy puff balls.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this spring is the difference between Elk Lake and Henry's Lake, Idaho. In the past nine years, a competition has waged between Henry's Lake and Elk Lake. Who will shake free of the ice first? They have always managed to keep the results within a day or two of each other.

Not so this year! In fact, as this picture (and the first) of Elk Lake reveal, the lake is totally ice free.

However, those two photos of Elk Lake were taken within 24 hours of this photo of Henry's Lake. If you look closely, you will see a single strip of open water just right of center in this photo. Everything else (except the shoreline) was still covered as of mid-week.

And, while the thermometer read 71 degrees earlier this week, this is spring in Montana's high mountains! Thus the temperature a couple days later only reached the mid 50's. So. . .I think Elk Lake may have won the Ice Removal Contest hands down this year!

I look forward to sharing photos of the critters (and their tracks) which we are seeing already. Every day has offered a first - and each has brought an excitement unique to this special time of year. However, they will have to wait for another post. Come back next week to learn what we are seeing (and hearing) in the wildlife category!

Lady of the Lake


Mia McPherson said...

I can't wait to head back to the Centennial Vally and Red Rock Lakes NWR to soak in the beauty of the valley , mountains & lakes. I also can't wait to photograph the birds there!

Lady of the Lake said...

It is an amazing place. To think so many pass it by on their way to Yellowstone and the crowds - ahhh, maybe that is a lot of why it is so special!

Thank you for reading and commenting!

Mia McPherson said...

Yes, I love it because there aren't any crowds!